Cosmopolitanism and Planetary Cultures

Reflections on the Chomsky interview, new podcasts, and events this week.

Last Monday (Nov. 16) , I had the great honor of participating in the Noam Chomsky Stoa session: “The Responsibility of Intellectuals.” My thanks again to Peter Limberg and the Stoa community for such a generative conversation.

Before I share more thoughts on that, here’s the latest:

  • A new episode of Mutations is up! Listen to “The Democratization of Time” or watch it on YouTube.

  • On Tuesday, November 24, join me for “The Aperspectival Body” with Barbara Karlsen and Brandt Stickley, an open registration Zoom event for the Mutations community at 1 pm ET / 10 am PT. Register for it here. The recording will be published on YouTube/Mutations podcast.

  • Next up, on Wednesday (Nov. 25) we host the weekly Mutations Patreon salon. To get info for that, become a patron here.

  • Like every Friday (on Black Friday, Nov. 27), I’ll be hosting the regular Mutations Discord chat at 3:30 pm ET / 12:30 pm PT. Open topic. Decompress from the week, hang out with fellow mutants, and go off on philosophical riffs. We switch things up from the Wednesday calls on Zoom as these sessions are (for the time being) voice-chat only.

  • I gave a talk with Parallax (thank you Tom Amarque!) last Thursday on Gebser and the “structure of feeling” in our present moment. Watch it here.

From Internationalism to Planetization?

Monday, Nov. 23, 2020

Peter Jones, Bonnitta Roy, and Matt Segall joined me on the Stoa panel — and each of them had great “yes, and-” questions that I’d like to weave into my thoughts here.

My question was concerned with how we can best understand the role of the Left, especially those who fill the role of public intellectual, in helping to shape popular discourse and public support for programs like the Green New Deal.

“With climate denialism coming from the right,” I asked, “and dangerous incrementalism coming from the neoliberal center, how can the Left’s Green New Deal function as an integral—and international—bridge for the material concerns of the majority?” You can watch the recording to hear Chomsky’s full response.

But it’s my follow-up question that, I think, deserves to more time to unpack. I asked professor Chomsky about strategies for effectively building an internationalist movement in the United States (in our present situation here, we’re dealing with the wrong kind of both/and: both decades of destructive neoliberal policies and the reactionary, authoritarian nationalism of the Trump years).

In an interview elsewhere, Chomsky would sum up the need for internationalism thusly:

Capital is coordinated and globalized. The struggles against injustice and oppression must develop interactions and mutual support in their own ways. The dreams of a true International should not fade.

During the Stoa session, Chomsky responded to my question in a similar manner and noted that this is likely the question we ought to be exploring (and by implication critical for us sensemakers, meta thinkers, and integralists to seriously consider).

The late historian William Irwin Thompson (who notably was an old colleague of Chomsky’s in the early 70s at MIT) once wrote that in this relative moment of cultural evolution and bifurcation we find ourselves in an “up or out scenario.” Chomsky echoes this sentiment himself and situates our choice between “internationalism or extinction,” since “environmental catastrophe, nuclear war, and the pandemic have no borders.” Complexity philosopher Edgar Morin has, perhaps, described it best: “the planet as much becomes political while politics becomes planetary.”

Therein lies the rub.

Bonnitta Roy’s question was concerned with cosmopolitanism vs. parochialism. What place does the parochial have in the dream of a “true International”? Chomsky’s reply was thoughtful, if a little pragmatic (paraphrasing): to begin to answer that, you work to address the material conditions for everyone. You find common ground.

“Much of the malignancy,” he wrote at Progressive International, “traces back to the neoliberal assault on the world’s population launched in force 40 years ago.”

Chomsky responded to a number of questions with history. For instance, in response to Matt’s question about spirituality for the left (which I’d love to explore further), Chomsky pointed to the recent history of Latin American socialism and liberation theology (Hugh McDonnell provides a good overview of that history here on Jacobin: “Liberation Christianity… found in the Marxist dictum of solidarity with the oppressed in their self-emancipation an appropriate conceptualization of charity.”)

One of the great strengths and weaknesses of the meta- and sensemaking communities has been their disposition towards hyper-abstraction. Discussions around memetic mediation and navigating the polarities of the culture war often overlook the need to incorporate a more thorough appreciation of material history (i.e. the socioeconomic and political, and therefore the structural media ecologies that shape our embodied world), perhaps in fear that doing so would embroil discussions in the muck and mire of the “Game A” paradigm, and even as literacy of our material histories would yield better insight for their questions (i.e. why are we so polarized today, or how did ‘parochialism’ become such an issue?). A number of Stoa participants even expressed their (appreciative) surprise for Chomsky’s historical outlook on the present. As David Graeber pointed out in Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, there is power in walking away from the monumental centers and simply taking up a new path. No denying that. But if we want to really answer the question Peter Jones opened the Stoa session with—what can intellectual communities like the Stoa do to avoid siloing ourselves and reach a wider public?—we need to connect. Get rooted. Come down to Earth. Build bridges with communities attempting to address the big questions (how might we imagine a post-capitalist future?) with the strength of “expert generalists” and meta thinkers who dare to think psychoactively. I, for one, believe the so-called “emergentsia” (a name Brent Cooper dubbed our meta communities) have a lot to offer the internationalist Left, who also just so happen to be asking the same kind of questions about what sort of future we want to shape.

But that question remains: how might we achieve internationalism while preserving parochialism? Is there another way to build up towards Teilhard de Chardin’s “planetization” without going the route of neoliberal globalization? Because the latter has reached an evolutionary cul-de-sac and we face Thompson’s “up or out” scenario. If there were to be a project of singular importance for our species to take up in this moment it would be this one. “Cultures must be simultaneously preserved and opened up,” Morin wrote, “there is nothing new in this.” This is the paradox we work with. “We need to [simultaneously] tie together the preservation of specificities and the propagation of a mestizo or cosmopolitan universality.” A taste of Brooks’ vision for cosmopolitan socialism.

Perhaps the way we have been “seeing” this problem is also too anchored in the perspectival vision of the static nation-state. “Seeing like a nation-state produces a certain reality,” Bayo Akomolafe recently wrote, “while "seeing from movement" - the way bodies have always infected bodies, the way cultures are always interrogated and undone by cross-currents and contradictions - produces another possible state of things.”

There are seeds of this future in the present, although they are still, as Jean Gebser would describe, “latent.” Jose Ramos and Michel Bauwens in recent years have suggested, through P2P Theory (Peer to Peer) a “cosmo-localism” might be possible: shifting from an economy of accumulated capital to an economy of accumulating commons. Whatever we might call this mutative leap in cultural evolution it is one in which the human imaginary — social, political, economic — is entangled brilliantly with the planetary, the biospheric.

As Bayo also recently wrote with integral-aperspectival exquisiteness:

“We don’t live on the planet; we are the planet in its ongoing de/materialization.”

This is the kind conversation I’d like to see happening amongst us meta thinkers, building bridges with other communities seeking regeneration and embodiment, walking away from the monumental centers (or sometimes taking them with us like nomads to bring them forward in new contexts), sensing potent futurabilities. We would put forward visions in which the political and planetary, the human and the non-human, the hyper-local and the cosmopolitan, are seen as they really are: entangled. So why don’t we have that conversation? Why don’t we promote that kind of public intellectual culture?

I’m looking forward to those chats.